Louisiana Supreme Court upholds employer vaccine mandate

Health

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — The Louisiana Supreme Court on Friday unanimously upheld a COVID-19 vaccine mandate for the state’s largest healthcare system.

The ruling was handed down the same day that the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments about the Biden administration’s order for companies with at least 100 employees to require vaccination or testing.

Louisiana’s highest court said Ochsner Health employees don’t have a legal reason to sue because the state gives employers the right to fire anyone as long as the reason doesn’t violate other laws or the state or federal constitution.

“Some fights are worth it,” Jimmy Faircloth, who filed separate suits for Ochsner employees in Lafayette and Shreveport, wrote in an email. He said his clients are disappointed but have always understood the issue was bound for the legislature.

Warner Thomas, Ochsner’s president and CEO, said officials were pleased with the unanimous decision.

“Ochsner Health remains committed to protecting the health and safety of our patients, team members and everyone across the communities we serve, and this decision supports our right to enact policies that protect patients and staff at our facilities across Louisiana,” he said.

Louisiana’s COVID-19 numbers continued to rise Friday. Some 1,521 patients were hospitalized in the state, 68 of them on ventilators, and authorities said there have been 16 deaths — up from 12 — in the 24 hours ending at noon Friday. The state reported 14,802 new cases in 24 hours.

The lawsuits filed in October also argued that the mandate for vaccination against the coronavirus violated employees’ right to privacy under Louisiana’s constitution.

“In addition to the use of economic duress, Ochsner expressly employs the use of stigma and ridicule to drive the mandate, requiring employees to place their vaccination status on public display,” the lawsuit filed in Caddo Parish said.

Louisiana’s justices said state and federal courts have consistently held that Louisiana’s constitutional right to privacy protects people from governments.

“This court declines the invitation to extend the scope … to restrict private actors,” said the opinion written by Chief Justice John Weimer.

Faircloth said that gives private employers authority “to place medical treatment restrictions on employees for any reason, without explanation or rationale. This is uncharted territory for personal autonomy.”

Shreveport Ochsner employees opposed to the vaccine requirement won a decision at the state’s 2nd Circuit Court of Appeal, which blocked the system’s requirement. But a state judge in the Lafayette area refused to do so.

Ochsner said in early December that it had fired 280 employees who refused to get a coronavirus vaccine or seek an exemption. It said 180 were contract workers called in when needed. Ochsner said nearly 99% of its 30,000 employees had complied with the vaccination policy.

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